Breaking Through: A New Age of Health for Women

Article excerpt

I am pleased, standing here, to be among so many professionals devoted to the field of women's health. And I'm grateful that there are people like you who recognize the need to shed more light on the health and well being of women.

On behalf of the nearly 19 million women who are members of AARP--and on behalf of my daughter, Debbie, and my granddaughter, Kathryn--I thank you for devoting your time and energy to work that will ultimately improve women's health. And I pledge to you that AARP will do what it can--and is doing what it can--to improve the health of older women.

I want to start today with an interesting view on aging and wellness. Lucille Ball once said that the secret to staying young was to live honestly, eat slowly--and lie about your age. That is not the view I'm taking today! But it does call to mind what we know today as the "formula for successful aging."

Thanks to a 10-year study by the MacArthur Foundation, we now know that this formula includes exercise of mind and body, disease avoidance, and staying actively engaged in life.

We also know that changes will need to be made if we hope to meet the challenges--and embrace the opportunities--that our growing 50 plus female population presents. Some of these changes are policy-related, some involve increased awareness and prevention, and some simply involve new attitudes.

Many of the statistics we have today on women's health--particularly on women's susceptibility to chronic illness--are grim, as you know.

But I believe we can find a silver lining when we examine the progress we're making; the growing knowledge we have related to health promotion and disease prevention; and, positive medical breakthroughs that are on the horizon.

More women taking charge of their health and fitness today also translates into good news.

Not too long ago the National Center on Women and Aging released the results of an important survey on women's attitudes toward health--and the results were encouraging:

* Sixty-five percent of women surveyed said they talked to their doctor about nutrition and physical activity.

* Sixty percent said they engaged in regular exercise at least three times a week for 20 minutes or more.

* Eighty percent of women responded that they didn't smoke, and 90 percent described their eating habits as "healthy" or "very healthy."

But at the same time, there are these grim statistics: obesity, up 57% since 1991. Diabetes called an "unfolding epidemic," with obesity largely to blame. Of the 10 million diagnosed cases of diabetes, eight million are women.

And even though 80 percent of women responded that they didn't smoke, over the past 10 years, the mortality rate from lung cancer--mainly brought on by smoking--has gone up for women, while it's declined for men.

With these realities in mind, today I'm going to focus on four key areas:

1) The good news about advances we've made and the longer lives we're living--but also information concerning the disproportionate degree of chronic illness among women.

2) The shortage of research on women as a group--and the need to take gender differences into account when considering diagnoses, treatment, and prevention measures.

3) The need to more accurately tailor public policy to reflect the fact that by increasing proportions, the majority of our population over the age of 50 is female.

4) What we can do ourselves, in the context of increasing preventive efforts and awareness--and how AARP can help.

First, let's take a look at some of the good news concerning the longer lives women are living today.

We're experiencing a demographic "revolution," one that's changing what it means to grow older. Living a long, healthy, productive life is no longer a pipe dream for women or for men.

It's our reality, one filled with new choices and opportunities for Americans 50 and over. …